CLARKE: COUNT ME IN

Press Eye - Belfast Northern Ireland - 29th May 2012'Irish Open Media Day at Royal Portrush Golf Club'Darren Clarke on the 15th Hole at Royal Portrush Golf Club.'Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast Northern Ireland - 29th May 2012'Irish Open Media Day at Royal Portrush Golf Club'Darren Clarke on the 15th Hole at Royal Portrush Golf Club.'Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

DARREN CLARKE says he will return to action in this month’s Irish Open — even if he needs a Zimmer frame to reach the first tee!

The local man, who started playing as an 11-year-old in the evenings with his father, Godfrey, because the green fee was cheaper as the sun went down, has been forced to pull out of the US Open and the Scandinavian equivalent because of a groin problem.

But the Open champion says he will not miss the chance to play at Royal Portrush in front of his home fans and on his favourite course.

He plans to tee it up on June 28 even if it threatens his chances of being fully fit for his Claret Jug defence three weeks later.

Clarke has been a prime mover in taking the Irish Open to Portrush and he admitted: “I’ve got to play — even if I have to use a Zimmer frame.

“Everyone who knows me knows that I have been looking forward to the Irish Open on my home course ever since it was announced, in January, that it was coming back here.

“Now the fact this injury means I won’t play officially until I tee up on the Dunluce Course in a month’s time means I will really be raring to go. Everyone in Northern Ireland is counting down the hours for this championship to start, and I’m one of them.

“I’ve still got four weeks so hopefully the groin will have cleared up by then anyway.

“I started feeling a bit of pain in Houston just before The Masters, so this injury doesn’t excuse my poor play over the past nine months.

“Since I won The Open at Royal St George’s it has been an incredible experience off the course, getting married and being greeted everywhere as the Open champion.

“My schedule has been crazy — crazy good — but my feet haven’t touched the ground.

“It’s been exactly the opposite on the course, where I’ve struggled just to make a cut.

“I can only put that down to me pushing too hard. Maybe taking a step back will help.

“I’m only able to swing at 60 per cent but I can putt and hit wedges so I’ll keep ticking over while I’m ‘resting’.”

Clarke said winning the Irish Open would be special, particularly at Royal Portrush where he first played as an 11-year-old boy, and he accepted that Irish fans would have a high level of expectation. Local knowledge would be important.

The winning score was not the most important issue for the fans. He just wanted them to be excited by the action. His lowest round was a 62 and 10 under.

He said: “The weather will dictate what the scores are going to be. If we have good weather and its 20 under par then that would be fine.

“At the end of the day we make our living out of golf but we are also in the entertainment industry. If people want to come in and see us making birdies and eagles, that’s okay with me.

“Some of the courses where you have four or five under par don’t really appeal to me. People want to see us making birdies. So if its 20 under par, great. But if it blows at 20mph and it’s 10 under par its still fine with me because the course is playing tough.

“At some links golf courses the prevailing winds are straight out and straight back in again. So you have an easy nine and a tough nine.

“At Portrush you have different angles of the wind coming all the time. People are going to have options. So you’ll see lots of birdies and hopefully lots of bogies as well. That’s the type of excitement you want people to watch.”

Asked if he felt the Open championship would someday return to the north coast, he said: “This is obviously a stepping stone towards the bigger goal of getting the Open back here. Infrastructure-wise, it’s not the easiest course (and area) to get people around. But the tour have done a wonderful job and I’m sure the Royal & Ancient are paying attention.

“Everybody involved in this event will be doing everything possible to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible and I’d like to think, come Monday, after it finishes, the R&A will take another serious look at possibly bringing the Open here.”